Title:
Fluid permeable dental aligner
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A shell-shaped dental aligner for producing predetermined movement in a patient's tooth includes a shell portion comprising a fluid-permeable material, an outer surface of the shell portion, and an inner surface of the shell portion, the inner surface to be in contact with the patient's tooth. The fluid-permeable material can allow fluid to communicate between the patient's tooth and the vicinity of the outer surface.



Inventors:
Wen, Huafeng (Redwood City, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/074300
Publication Date:
09/07/2006
Filing Date:
03/07/2005
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A61C3/00
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
PATEL, YOGESH P
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
ALIGN TECHNOLOGY C/O WAGNER BLECHER LLP (WATSONVILLE, CA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A shell-shaped dental aligner for producing predetermined movement in a patient's tooth, comprising: a shell portion comprising a fluid-permeable material; an outer surface of the shell portion; and an inner surface of the shell portion, the inner surface to be in contact with the patient's tooth, wherein the fluid-permeable material can allow fluid to communicate between the patient's tooth and the vicinity of the outer surface.

2. The shell-shaped dental aligner of claim 1, wherein the fluid-permeable material allows air and liquid to communicate between the patient's tooth and the vicinity of the outer surface.

3. The shell-shaped dental aligner of claim 1, wherein the fluid-permeable material allows the permeation of oxygen from the vicinity of the outer surface to the patient's tooth.

4. The shell-shaped dental aligner of claim 1, wherein the fluid-permeable material allows the permeation of saliva between the outer surface and the inner surface.

5. The shell-shaped dental aligner of claim 1, further comprising: a bottom portion to be placed near the gingival of the patient's tooth; and a tip portion on the opposite side of the bottom portion.

6. The shell-shaped dental aligner of claim 1, wherein the fluid-permeable material comprises a porous polymeric material.

7. The shell-shaped dental aligner of claim 1, wherein the fluid-permeable material comprises pores that are drilled by a laser beam.

8. The shell-shaped dental aligner of claim 1, wherein the fluid-permeable material comprises micro-channels or pore having diameters in the range of 50 Å to 400 μM.

9. A method for treating a patient's teeth, comprising determining an initial configuration of the patient's teeth; determining a final configuration of the patient's teeth; designing a movement path for at least one of the patient's teeth from the initial configuration to the final configuration; dividing the movement path into a plurality of successive treatment steps, each having a target configuration for the patient's teeth; and producing a dental aligner comprising a fluid-permeable material to move the patient's teeth to the target configuration associated with a treatment step.

10. The method of claim 9, wherein the fluid-permeable material comprises a porous polymeric material.

11. The method of claim 9, further comprising drilling holes by a laser beam in a dental-aligner material to form a fluid-permeable dental aligner.

12. The method of claim 10, wherein the target configuration comprises the target positions and the target orientations of one or more of the patient's teeth.

13. The method of claim 10, further comprising molding the dental aligner having the fluid-permeable material using in a casting chamber.

14. The method of claim 10, further comprising producing two dental aligners comprising the fluid-permeable material and having substantially identical shape.

15. The method of claim 10, wherein the fluid-permeable material comprises pores are formed by subliming a low density granular compound by pressure and/or elevated temperature in a base material.

16. A system for treating a patient's teeth, comprising: a computer configured to determine a target configuration for the patient's teeth; and an apparatus configured to produce a dental aligner comprising a shell portion that comprises a fluid-permeable material, an outer surface, and an inner surface to be in contact with one of the patient's teeth, wherein the fluid-permeable material can allow fluid to communicate between the one of the patient's teeth and the vicinity of the outer surface and the dental aligner is configured to move the patient's teeth to the target configuration.

17. The system of claim 16, wherein the fluid-permeable material comprises a porous polymeric material.

18. The system of claim 16, wherein the apparatus is configured to drill holes by a laser beam in a dental-aligner material to form a fluid-permeable dental aligner.

19. The system of claim 16, wherein the apparatus is configured to mold the dental aligner having the fluid-permeable material using in a casting chamber.

20. The system of claim 16, wherein the apparatus is configured to produce fluid-permeable dental aligner comprising micro-channels or pore having diameters in the range of 50 Å to 400 μM.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCES TO RELATED INVENTIONS

The present invention is also related to concurrently filed and commonly assigned U.S. patent application titled “Producing physical dental arch model having individually adjustable tooth models” by Liu et al, U.S. patent application titled “Dental aligner for providing accurate dental treatment” by Liu et al, U.S. patent application titled “Producing wrinkled dental aligner for dental treatment” by Liu et al, and U.S. patent application titled “Disposal dental aligner” by Huafeng Wen.

The present invention is also related to commonly assigned U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/979,823, titled “Method and apparatus for manufacturing and constructing a physical dental arch model” by Huafeng Wen, filed Nov. 2, 2004, U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/979,497, titled “Method and apparatus for manufacturing and constructing a dental aligner” by Huafeng Wen, filed Nov. 2, 2004, U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/979,504, titled “Producing an adjustable physical dental arch model” by Huafeng Wen, filed Nov. 2, 2004, and U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/979,824, titled “Producing a base for physical dental arch model” by Huafeng Wen, filed Nov. 2, 2004. The disclosure of these related applications are incorporated herein by reference.

The present invention is also related to commonly assigned U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/013,152, titled “A base for physical dental arch model” by Huafeng Wen, filed Dec. 14, 2004, commonly assigned U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/012,924, titled “Accurately producing a base for physical dental arch model” by Huafeng Wen, filed Dec. 14, 2004, commonly assigned U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/013,145, titled “Fabricating a base compatible with physical dental tooth models” by Huafeng Wen, filed Dec. 14, 2004, commonly assigned U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/013,156, titled “Producing non-interfering tooth models on a base” by Huafeng Wen, filed Dec. 14, 2004, commonly assigned U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/013,160, titled “System and methods for casting physical tooth model” by Huafeng Wen, filed Dec. 14, 2004, commonly assigned U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/013,159, titled “Producing a base for accurately receiving dental tooth models” by Huafeng Wen, and filed Dec. 14, 2004, commonly assigned U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/013,157, titled “Producing accurate base for dental arch model” by Huafeng Wen, filed Dec. 14, 2004. The disclosure of these related applications are incorporated herein by reference.

TECHNICAL FIELD

This application generally relates to the field of dental care, and more particularly to the field of orthodontics.

BACKGROUND

Orthodontics is the practice of manipulating a patient's teeth to provide better function and appearance. In general, brackets are bonded to a patient's teeth and coupled together with an arched wire. The combination of the brackets and wire provide a force on the teeth causing them to move. Once the teeth have moved to a desired location and are held in a place for a certain period of time, the body adapts bone and tissue to maintain the teeth in the desired location. To further assist in retaining the teeth in the desired location, a patient may be fitted with a retainer.

To achieve tooth movement, orthodontists utilize their expertise to first determine a three-dimensional mental image of the patient's physical orthodontic structure and a three-dimensional mental image of a desired physical orthodontic structure for the patient, which may be assisted through the use of x-rays and/or models. Based on these mental images, the orthodontist further relies on his/her expertise to place the brackets and/or bands on the teeth and to manually bend (i.e., shape) wire, such that a force is asserted on the teeth to reposition the teeth into the desired physical orthodontic structure. As the teeth move towards the desired location, the orthodontist makes continual judgments as to the progress of the treatment, the next step in the treatment (e.g., new bend in the wire, reposition or replace brackets, is head gear required, etc.), and the success of the previous step.

In general, the orthodontist makes manual adjustments to the wire and/or replaces or repositions brackets based on his or her expert opinion. Unfortunately, in the oral environment, it is impossible for a human being to accurately develop a visual three-dimensional image of an orthodontic structure due to the limitations of human sight and the physical structure of a human mouth. In addition, it is humanly impossible to accurately estimate three-dimensional wire bends (with an accuracy within a few degrees) and to manually apply such bends to a wire. Further, it is humanly impossible to determine an ideal bracket location to achieve the desired orthodontic structure based on the mental images. It is also extremely difficult to manually place brackets in what is estimated to be the ideal location. Accordingly, orthodontic treatment is an iterative process requiring multiple wire changes, with the process success and speed being very much dependent on the orthodontist's motor skills and diagnostic expertise. As a result of multiple wire changes, patient discomfort is increased as well as the cost. As one would expect, the quality of care varies greatly from orthodontist to orthodontist as does the time to treat a patient.

As described, the practice of orthodontic is very much an art, relying on the expert opinions and judgments of the orthodontist. In an effort to shift the practice of orthodontic from an art to a science, many innovations have been developed. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 5,518,397 issued to Andreiko, et. al. provides a method of forming an orthodontic brace. Such a method includes obtaining a model of the teeth of a patient's mouth and a prescription of desired positioning of such teeth. The contour of the teeth of the patient's mouth is determined, from the model. Calculations of the contour and the desired positioning of the patient's teeth are then made to determine the geometry (e.g., grooves or slots) to be provided. Custom brackets including a special geometry are then created for receiving an arch wire to form an orthodontic brace system. Such geometry is intended to provide for the disposition of the arched wire on the bracket in a progressive curvature in a horizontal plane and a substantially linear configuration in a vertical plane. The geometry of the brackets is altered, (e.g., by cutting grooves into the brackets at individual positions and angles and with particular depth) in accordance with such calculations of the bracket geometry. In such a system, the brackets are customized to provide three-dimensional movement of the teeth, once the wire, which has a two dimensional shape (i.e., linear shape in the vertical plane and curvature in the horizontal plane), is applied to the brackets.

Other innovations relating to bracket and bracket placements have also been patented. For example, such patent innovations are disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,618,716 entitled “Orthodontic Bracket and Ligature” a method of ligating arch wires to brackets, U.S. Pat. No; 5,011,405 “Entitled Method for Determining Orthodontic Bracket Placement,” U.S. Pat. No. 5,395,238 entitled “Method of Forming Orthodontic Brace,” and U.S. Pat. No. 5,533,895 entitled “Orthodontic Appliance and Group Standardize Brackets therefore and methods of making, assembling and using appliance to straighten teeth”.

Kuroda et al. (1996) Am. J. Orthodontics 110:365-369 describes a method for laser scanning a plaster dental cast to produce a digital image of the cast. See also U.S. Pat. No. 5,605,459. U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,533,895; 5,474,448; 5,454,717; 5,447,432; 5,431,562; 5,395,238; 5,368,478; and 5,139,419, assigned to Ormco Corporation, describe methods for manipulating digital images of teeth for designing orthodontic appliances.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,011,405 describes a method for digitally imaging a tooth and determining optimum bracket positioning for orthodontic treatment. Laser scanning of a molded tooth to produce a three-dimensional model is described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,338,198. U.S. Pat. No. 5,452,219 describes a method for laser scanning a tooth model and milling a tooth mold. Digital computer manipulation of tooth contours is described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,607,305 and 5,587,912. Computerized digital imaging of the arch is described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,342,202 and 5,340,309.

Other patents of interest include U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,549,476; 5,382,164; 5,273,429; 4,936,862; 3,860,803; 3,660,900; 5,645,421; 5,055,039; 4,798,534; 4,856,991; 5,035,613; 5,059,118; 5,186,623; and 4,755,139.

The key to efficiency in treatment and maximum quality in results is a realistic simulation of the treatment process. Today's orthodontists have the possibility of taking plaster models of the upper and lower arch, cutting the model into single tooth models and sticking these tooth models into a wax bed, lining them up in the desired position, the so-called set-up. This approach allows for reaching a perfect occlusion without any guessing. The next step is to bond a bracket at every tooth model. This would tell the orthodontist the geometry of the wire to run through the bracket slots to receive exactly this result. The next step involves the transfer of the bracket position to the original malocclusion model. To make sure that the brackets will be bonded at exactly this position at the real patient's teeth, small templates for every tooth would have to be fabricated that fit over the bracket and a relevant part of the tooth and allow for reliable placement of the bracket on the patient's teeth. To increase efficiency of the bonding process, another option would be to place each single bracket onto a model of the malocclusion and then fabricate one single transfer tray per arch that covers all brackets and relevant portions of every tooth. Using such a transfer tray guarantees a very quick and yet precise bonding using indirect bonding.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,431,562 to Andreiko et al. describes a computerized, appliance-driven approach to orthodontics. In this method, first certain shape information of teeth is acquired. A uniplanar target arcform is calculated from the shape information. The shape of customized bracket slots, the bracket base, and the shape of the orthodontic archwire, are calculated in accordance with a mathematically-derived target archform. The goal of the Andreiko et al. method is to give more predictability, standardization, and certainty to orthodontics by replacing the human element in orthodontic appliance design with a deterministic, mathematical computation of a target archform and appliance design. Hence the '562 patent teaches away from an interactive, computer-based system in which the orthodontist remains fully involved in patient diagnosis, appliance design, and treatment planning and monitoring.

More recently, Align Technologies began offering transparent, removable aligning devices as a new treatment modality in orthodontics. In this system, an impression model of the dentition of the patient is obtained by the orthodontist and shipped to a remote appliance manufacturing center, where it is scanned with a CT scanner. A computer model of the dentition in a target situation is generated at the appliance manufacturing center and made available for viewing to the orthodontist over the Internet. The orthodontist indicates changes they wish to make to individual tooth positions. Later, another virtual model is provided over the Internet and the orthodontist reviews the revised model, and indicates any further changes. After several such iterations, the target situation is agreed upon. A series of removable aligning devices or shells are manufactured and delivered to the orthodontist. The shells, in theory, will move the patient's teeth to the desired or target position.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,699,037 by Align Technologies describes an improved methods and systems for repositioning teeth from an initial tooth arrangement to a final tooth arrangement. Repositioning is accomplished with a system comprising a series of appliances configured to receive the teeth in a cavity and incrementally reposition individual teeth in a series of at least three successive steps, usually including at least four successive steps, often including at least ten steps, sometimes including at least twenty-five steps, and occasionally including forty or more steps. Most often, the methods and systems will reposition teeth in from ten to twenty-five successive steps, although complex cases involving many of the patient's teeth may take forty or more steps. The successive use of a number of such appliances permits each appliance to be configured to move individual teeth in small increments, typically less than 2 mm, preferably less than 1 mm, and more preferably less than 0.5 mm. These limits refer to the maximum linear translation of any point on a tooth as a result of using a single appliance. The movements provided by successive appliances, of course, will usually not be the same for any particular tooth. Thus, one point on a tooth may be moved by a particular distance as a result of the use of one appliance and thereafter moved by a different distance and/or in a different direction by a later appliance.

The individual appliances will preferably comprise a polymeric shell having the teeth-receiving cavity formed therein, typically by molding as described below. Each individual appliance will be configured so that its tooth-receiving cavity has a geometry corresponding to an intermediate or end tooth arrangement intended for that appliance. That is, when an appliance is first worn by the patient, certain of the teeth will be misaligned relative to an undeformed geometry of the appliance cavity. The appliance, however, is sufficiently resilient to accommodate or conform to the misaligned teeth, and will apply sufficient resilient force against such misaligned teeth in order to reposition the teeth to the intermediate or end arrangement desired for that treatment step.

The fabrication of aligners by Align Technologies utilizes stereo lithography process as disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,471,511 and 6,682,346. Several drawbacks exist however with the stereo lithography process. The materials used by stereo lithography process may be toxic and harmful to human health. Stereo lithography process builds the aligner layer by layer by layer, which may create room to hide germs and bacteria while it is worn by a patient. Furthermore, stereo lithography process used by Align Technology also requires a different aligner mold at each stage of the treatment, which produces a lot of waste and is environmental unfriendly. There is therefore a long felt need for practical, effective and efficient methods to produce a dental aligner.

A long recognized issue with the transparent removable aligning devices manufactured by Align Technologies is that the aligning devices do not allow oxygen to pass through it. A typical treatment takes about 18 to 24 months and during this interval, the cervical lines of the patient wearing such appliances remain covered for the major part of the day without letting air to pass through them. Oxygen cannot reach the cells of the cervical lines. Air trapped inside the aligning appliances also cannot get out easily. Anaerobic bacteria such as Fusobacterium and Actinomyces often thrive in an oxygen-deprived environment and produce volatile sulfur compounds (VSC) as byproducts, which can result in bad breath (halitosis) and hygiene problems in the patient's mouth.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention has been devised to substantially eliminate the foregoing problems and is to provide methods and apparatus to manufacture and construct the physical dental arch model. Implementations of the system may include one or more of the following.

In one aspect, the present invention relates to a shell-shaped dental aligner for producing predetermined movement in a patient's tooth, comprising:

a shell portion comprising a fluid-permeable material;

an outer surface of the shell portion; and

an inner surface of the shell portion, the inner surface to be in contact with the patient's tooth, wherein the fluid-permeable material can allow fluid to communicate between the patient's tooth and the vicinity of the outer surface.

In another aspect, the present invention relates to a method for treating a patient's teeth, comprising determining an initial configuration of the patient's teeth;

determining a final configuration of the patient's teeth;

designing a movement path for at least one of the patient's teeth from the initial configuration to the final configuration;

dividing the movement path into a plurality of successive treatment steps, each having a target configuration for the patient's teeth; and

producing a dental aligner comprising a fluid-permeable material to move the patient's teeth to the target configuration associated with a treatment step.

In yet another aspect, the present invention relates to a system for treating a patient's teeth, comprising:

a computer configured to determine a target configuration for the patient's teeth; and

an apparatus configured to produce a dental aligner comprising a shell portion that comprises a fluid-permeable material, an outer surface, and an inner surface to be in contact with one of the patient's teeth, wherein the fluid-permeable material can allow fluid to communicate between the one of the patient's teeth and the vicinity of the outer surface and the dental aligner is configured to move the patient's teeth to the target configuration.

Embodiments may include one or more of the following advantages. The present invention provides fluid permeable dental aligning devices for patients that allow oxygen to pass through to the patient's teeth and cervical lines in the arch. The increase oxygen concentration under the dental aligning devices can overcome the problem of bacteria growth under the aligner device in the conventional aligner systems.

Another advantage of the present invention is that it provides porous channels for saliva to pass through the dental aligners. Saliva plays a critical role in controlling halitosis and bacterial growth. Saliva contains proteins, carbohydrates, and immunoglobulins that interfere with bacterial metabolism and bacterial adherence to oral surfaces. Saliva as a solvent can control the mouth odor in the oral chemical environment. As a result the mouth odor and oral hygiene of the patient who wears the dental aligner are improved.

Yet another advantage of the present invention is that the capability of passing oxygen and saliva not only improves the patient's oral hygiene but also allowing the patient clean the aligner less frequently, which is more convenient for the patient. The less frequent removal and wearing can also lengthen the usage lifetime and the effectiveness of the dental aligning devices.

The details of one or more embodiments are set forth in the accompanying drawing and in the description below. Other features, objects, and advantages of the invention will become apparent from the description and drawings, and from the claims.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The accompanying drawing, which are incorporated in and form a part of this specification, illustrate embodiments of the invention and, together with the description, serve to explain the principles of the invention:

FIG. 1 illustrates an orthodontic process for using a dental aligner comprising a fluid-permeable material.

DESCRIPTION OF INVENTION

The present invention intends to overcome the above-described difficulties experienced by the transparent removable aligning devices. In one aspect, removal dental aligners are fabricated using a fluid-permeable material to allow fluid to communicate between the outer surface and the inner surface of the dental aligner. The fluid-permeable material comprises pores or micro-channels to allow air and liquid to permeate through to the patient's teeth, which suppresses the growth of the VSC producing bacteria in the patient's mount and improves the patient's oral hygiene. Air trapped in the dental aligner can also be circulated out continuously, which also helps to suppress the unnatural growth of anaerobic bacteria and associated halitosis. Oxygenated saliva liquid passing through the permeable material to the cervical line of the patient's teeth reduce the amount of bacterial VSCs, which reduces the risks for halitosis.

FIG. 1 illustrates a process for producing a dental aligner made of a fluid permeable material. In an orthodontic treatment, an initial configuration of the patient's arch is first determined in step 110. The patient's arch can include one or more teeth in the upper jaw and lower jaw. The configuration includes positions and orientations of the patient's teeth. The initial configuration can be obtained by first producing a negative impression of the patient's arch and then scanning the surfaces of the negative impression by 3D positional measurement devices. The dentist analyzes the initial configuration of the patient's teeth and determines the final configuration of the patient's teeth in step 120. The final configuration comprises the positions and the orientations of the patient's teeth after the corrective treatment process.

The dentist will then design a movement path for each of the teeth involved in step 130. A typical orthodontic treatment is usually divided into a plurality of successive treatment steps in step 140. One or more specifically designed disposable dental aligners are used to move the patient's teeth to a pre-designed target configuration. The treatment at the step is intended to produce incremental amounts of changes in positions or orientations that are within the comfort tolerance of the patient as well as the performance of the dental aligner.

The removal dental aligner is typically shell shaped that can be worn by a patient over his or her dental arch to produce corrective movement in a patient's teeth. The dental aligner typically includes a shell portion, an outer surface of the shell portion, and an inner surface of the shell portion. The inner surface will be in contact with the patient's teeth. The shell-shaped dental aligner can further include a bottom portion to be placed near the gingival of the patient's tooth and a tip portion on the opposite side of the bottom portion.

In accordance with the present invention, fluid-permeable dental aligners allow air or liquid to communicate between the patient's tooth and the vicinity of the outer surface. Dental aligners are fabricated to achieve the same incremental teeth movement at that particular step 150. The dental aligners can be molded using fluid-permeable material materials in a casting chamber. The mold can be a negative impression produced by a physical dental arch model that comprises the patient's tooth models that are configured in the target configuration for the specific treatment step. The dental aligners can also be fabricated by a CNC based machine in response to a digital aligner model.

Details of producing physical dental arch model and associated base are disclosed in the above referenced and commonly assigned U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/979,823, titled “Method and apparatus for manufacturing and constructing a physical dental arch model” by Huafeng Wen, filed Nov. 2, 2004, U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/979,497, titled “Method and apparatus for manufacturing and constructing a dental aligner” by Huafeng Wen, filed Nov. 2, 2004, U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/979,504, titled “Producing an adjustable physical dental arch model” by Huafeng Wen, filed Nov. 2, 2004, and U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/979,824, titled “Producing a base for physical dental arch model” by Huafeng Wen, filed Nov. 2, 2004. The disclosure of these related applications are incorporated herein by reference.

The effects of the dental aligners having permeable materials can be simulated by computer modeling. The progressive teeth configurations in an orthodontic treatment can be represented by a digital dental arch model. The disposable aligners can be simulated by a digital aligner model. The computer simulation helps to determine the number of steps needed for each treatment, the material properties of the dental aligners. In particular, the properties of the permeable materials can be simulated to predict and optimize the fluid permeation function of the dental aligner. The fluid permeability of the dental aligner can be optimized by varying the diameters and the density of the pores. The preferred material properties and structures are predicted. Materials and fabrication processes can be experimented and selected to achieve the desired properties and structures in the dental aligners.

The pore density and diameters can be of uniform or non-uniform distribution across the dental aligners. For example, the pore density can be higher at the portion of the shell-shaped dental aligner along cervical lines to allow extra air and liquid communication to the cervical lines of the patient's teeth to prevent bacteria growth. The hardness of the dental aligners can also be varied depending on the intended length of use of a particular dental aligner. In addition, the fluid permeation properties can also depend on the patient life style, his or her use pattern of the dental aligner, and the climate in which he or she wears the dental aligning devices. These optimized properties will improve the patient comfort and convenience in using the dental aligner having fluid-permeable material for corrective orthodontic treatment in step 160.

The dental aligners can include wrinkled surfaces to enhance the strength and sustainability of the dental aligner. Details of wrinkled dental aligners and the fabrications are disclosed in the commonly assigned and concurrently filed U.S. patent application titled “Dental aligner for providing accurate dental treatment” by Liu et al and U.S. patent application titled “Producing wrinkled dental aligner for dental treatment” by Liu et al., the disclosure of which are herein incorporated by reference.

The dental aligners comprising fluid-permeable material can also be disposable. A plurality of disposable dental aligners having substantially identical shape can be produced for a single step of the treatment. The use of multiple disposable dental aligners allows a disposal dental aligner to be replaced before it is relaxed and deforms. This assures the uniform application of force the patient's teeth over time and improves the accuracy of the treatment. Because of their effectiveness, the disposal dental aligners can shorten the overall treatment time. The disposal dental aligners is also more comfortable for the patient to wear because of the smaller granular movements induced by each disposal dental aligner. Details of the manufacturing of disposable dental aligners are disclosed in the concurrently filed and commonly assigned U.S. patent application titled “Disposal dental aligner”, the disclosure of which are herein incorporated by reference.

A variety of fluid-permeable materials are compatible with the disclosed methods and system. The fluid-permeable materials can include polymeric materials prepared by copolymerizing styrene and divinylbenzene (DVB). Very small pores or ‘micropores’ can be formed in such process as a result of DVB tying together linear chains of styrene at various points. The “degree of cross-linking” is determined by the percentage of DVB present. The “degree of cross-linking” in turn determines the size of the pores. A 10% cross-linked polymer contains 10% DVB and has somewhat smaller pores than a 2% cross-linked polymer since the additional DVB creates additional linkage points making the average distance between those points smaller. However, as cross-linking is reduced pore size increases, the physical stability of the polymer decreases. Fluid permeability and strength therefore need to be co-optimized in designing dental aligners. Pore sizes are typically less than 30 Å in diameter and fairly uniform distributed.

Another type of porous polymer was independently developed in the late 1950s by scientists at The Dow Chemical Company and at Rohm and Haas. These materials have come to be called “macroporous polymers”, and pores are formed independently of cross-linking. Polymerization takes place in the presence of“porogens”. Porogens are substances that are soluble in monomers, but insoluble in formed polymers. Thus, as polymerization proceeds, pores are formed in the spaces where porogens are found. Pore diameters are typically greater than 50 Å, with some polymers having pore diameters as great as 2000 to 4000 Å. Most polymers, however, contain pores in the 100 Å to 300 Å range. Pore size distributions tend to be somewhat broad, particularly in polymers having large average pore sizes. These materials are characterized by irregular shaped-pores that terminate within the polymer body. Macroporous polymers are usually prepared with a high degree of cross-linking (typically 30% or greater) to lend greater physical stability to the resulting material and to yield polymers that do not swell in solvents. The discovery of this route to synthesizing polymers led to materials with much larger pore size and much higher porosity than preceding microporous materials; however total porosity rarely exceeds 50%. Details of this type of porous polymers are disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 3,322,695 titled “Preparation of Porous Structures” by Alfrey et al., and U.S. Pat. No. 4,224,415 titled “Polymerization Processes and Products Therefrom” by Meitzner et al., the disclosure of these U.S. patents are incorporated herein by reference.

Other porous materials include porous polymer structures known as “high internal phase emulsions” (“HIPE”) that are disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 4,522,953 “Low Density Porous Cross-linked Polymeric Materials and their Preparation and Use as Carriers for Included Liquids” by Barby et al. and U.S. Pat. No. 5,583,162 titled “Polymeric Microbeads and Method of Preparation” by Li et al. The disclosures of these U.S. patents are incorporated herein by reference.

Another approach of making fluid permeable dental aligners is to mix a base sheet material with small granules of a low-density compound (usually a form of plastic). The low-density compound has a lower sublimation point than the base material. The sheet of material mixture is then placed in a heated container over a mould. Air is pumped out. The appliance is separated from the mould and is subjected to high temperature and/or pressure, which results in the sublimation of the granular low-density material. The molecules of the material are converted to gaseous forms (in case of plastic, formaldehyde) and leave behind pores large enough to let gas and/or liquid molecules pass through.

Pores can also be made in the dental aligner by laser beams with extraordinary power stability. The diameters of the holes can be controlled in the range between 40-400 μm at a perforation speed as high as 500,000 holes per second. The density and pore sizes can be directly controlled by a computer in response to a dental aligner model.

Although specific embodiments of the present invention have been illustrated in the accompanying drawings and described in the foregoing detailed description, it will be understood that the invention is not limited to the particular embodiments described herein, but is capable of numerous rearrangements, modifications, and substitutions without departing from the scope of the invention. The following claims are intended to encompass all such modifications.